GREEN BAY – After tight end Andrew Quarless caught his first touchdown pass of the season – which also turned out to be the game-winning score – in the Green Bay Packers’ 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the first person he wanted to talk to was his position coach, Jerry Fontenot.
After all, no one knew what Quarless had been through over the past two years better than Fontenot.
Fontenot, who has been on the Packers’ coaching staff since 2006, played 16 years in the NFL from 1989 through 2004 for Chicago, New Orleans and Cincinnati. As a player, he suffered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee early in his Bears career and also had a season-ending knee injury in 1998 with the Saints.
In Fontenot, Quarless found someone who understood him after he suffered a gruesome knee injury on Dec. 4, 2011 – one that not only ended that season but forced him to sit out for the 2012 season as well. Quarless damaged the ACL and MCL and had reconstructive surgery in January 2012.
“It’s kind of a connection. You can understand what you have to go through,” Quarless said of his relationship with Fontenot. “Before I had an ACL, I saw a million ACLs – but I could never relate and understand how hard it is to come back from major knee surgery.
“(Fontenot) had an ACL when he played, so one of the things I told him (was), ‘I feel blessed to be out here.’ Every day I cherish every moment because I knew what I had to go through.”
That conversation after the Falcons game happened in part because of another conversation the tight end and his coach had in the week leading up to the game against Atlanta.
“Coming out of the last game on Thanksgiving, there were certain plays [that weren’t good],” Quarless said, of the game where he caught just one pass for 7 yards. “One of the biggest things me and him talked about was ‘finish’. I’m usually a good guy off the line. It takes four or five seconds every play, so you really have to play all out. That was my approach, just really finishing. That was my biggest thing this week was to finish, and we finished with a win, thankfully.”
Fontenot said that while Quarless knows what he’s doing, he needed to do a better job as a blocker.
“He makes the right reads, he’s smart enough,” Fontenot said. “We’ve continually emphasized his fundamentals and tried to get our pad level (down) and gain leverage on guys, but he plays high. We need more out of him at the point of attack and finish. We’ve talked about that.”
Quarless’ improvement has been an important focus for the Packers since tight end Jermichael Finley was lost for the season to a career-threatening neck injury in the Packers’ victory over Cleveland on Oct. 20. Finley was later placed on season-ending injured reserve and underwent spinal fusion surgery last month.
In the first six games of the season, Finley caught 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. In the seven games since, the four remaining members of the Packers’ tight end group –Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Jake Stoneburner and Ryan Taylor – have managed just 31 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
But against the Falcons, the Packers’ tight ends group combined for 10 receptions for 101 yards, including the touchdown by Quarless, who set career single-game bests with six receptions for 66 yards. He now enters Sunday's game at Dallas with 23 receptions for 196 yards.
“We really took a step forward as a group. Not just me,” Quarless said. “Everybody caught passes, everybody played a part. One of the things we talked about when J-Mike went down was we need all hands on deck. We had everybody step up. I’m proud of my group.”
Quarless may be proud of the group as a whole, but he was the one quarterback Aaron Rodgers singled out Tuesday during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN Milwaukee and ESPNWisconsin.com.
“Quarless probably had his best game as a Packer,” Rodgers said. “He was into it, he made plays, he caught the ball well made plays after the catch. I was very happy for ‘Q.’ He got an opportunity and made plays. That was great.”
Added offensive coordinator Tom Clements: “I thought he played well. That’s probably the most receptions he’s had in a game. Caught his first touchdown pass (of the season). He made some nice catches. He played well in the passing game and overall had a good game.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.